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  • Society of Bioethics and Medicine

Subway Chase and Safety

Written by Pooja Suganthan

Edited by Kelvin Wu

Two weeks ago, I was chased around the Jamaica 179 Street subway station by a man with a giant bucket filled with grain. Saying it out loud sounds comical now, but at that moment, I was fearing for my life.

Days after my train chase, I started to hear more and more stories about violence and harassment on the subways. Pushing riders in front of trains, rape, assault, robbery, stabbing, and murder. My heart ached for all the victims.

On Friday February 17th, Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul announced a zero-tolerance policy to reduce homeless populations in the subways. According to Adams, there will be “No more just doing whatever you want. Those days are over. Swipe your MetroCard, ride the system, get off at your destination.”

At first, this seemed like great news- perhaps riders can start to feel safe on the subway again. But where would the evicted populations go? Do they even want to go? Are all homeless people getting evicted, or solely those who are endangering themselves or others?

A lot of questions remain unanswered in this new plan. Shelly Nortz from Coalition for the Homeless criticizes this plan’s criminalization of mentally ill and homeless members of society- and I agree with her. Moving homeless people into shelters, whose conditions are equally or even worse than a subway station, is not going to work. This has been attempted time and time again in the past, and we haven’t seen much improvement. Instead, I temporarily agree with her take on creating “ready access to voluntary inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care, including medication.” We can’t force people out of their homes without providing them with better housing accommodations, financial assistance, and mental health support.

On the plus side, this plan does call for an increase in inpatient psychiatric beds, which would be paid for by Medicaid, and will regulate complaints about hospital emergency rooms that do not treat some psychiatric patients due to disruptiveness. These patients are often discharged earlier, in unstable conditions, where they may cause harm to others in public spaces. It’s also motivating to see the plan incorporate outreach workers who must undergo special training.

Restoring safety in the subways is not an easy task. It will require combined efforts from the government, hospitals, law enforcement, and mental health services to ensure that the homeless population is relocated in an appropriate manner, to better housing, and supported with necessary resources.

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